Marco Rubio got to share some welcome news with conservatives at the Values Voters Summit Friday morning: House Speaker John Boehner is resigning.
Attendees rose to their feet and hooted and hollered in exaltation in response.
Rubio waited. The reaction said it all. The party’s base is ready for a someone with new ideas for Washington. Rubio was trying everything he could Friday to show them he was their guy.
Rubio’s speech was always going to be about how he—the son of Cuban immigrants—represented a new vision and opportunity for the Republican Party. In an election where rogue businessman Donald Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson lead the field, Rubio recognized he must somehow distance himself from the establishment names of the 2016 cycle.
But the unexpected Boehner news crystallized Rubio’s position on that stage and in the Republican presidential field more broadly; anyone who is going to win the nomination is going to need the Values Voters and a dash of Washington disdain to pull it off.
Behind the scenes, Rubio has been courting some of the party’s big donors and party establishment. When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker dropped out of the presidential race earlier this week, Rubio collected a hodgepodge of new supporters, state staff, and endorsements. But the Florida senator will still need to win the hearts of the party faithful, voters who have still not entirely forgiven him for his position on immigration. And Friday morning, Rubio did everything he could to remind conservatives he may not be Ben Carson but he is nothing like Jeb Bush, either.